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Rosemary oil shown to boost brain power

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
The scent of rosemary improves cognitive performance, finds new study.

A new study finds the scent of the rosemary can boost brain power, perhaps because the smell also produces a sense of calm. In a study, researchers found the herb contains a specific compound that when inhaled enters the blood stream and improves cognitive performance.

According to results of a new study, published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology, compounds in rosemary called terpenes can enter the bloodstream through the mucous membranes of the nose and lungs.

In a first study the researchers were able to show a terpene compound in rosemary called 1,8-cineole is also related to cognitive performance, but not alertness and attention.

Terpenes also easily cross the blood brain barrier, which is how the scent of rosemary affects brain chemistry.

Rosemary, eucalyptus, wormwood and sage have all been studied for their effect on the brain and nervous system.

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Researchers believe terpenes in the aromatic plants inhibit the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain.

Twenty subjects were used in the experiment. Researchers Mark Moss and Lorraine Oliver, working at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University, UK tested blood levels of 1,8-cineole in participants exposed to varying amounts of the oils in rosemary to see how much they had absorbed. The researchers performed speed and accuracy tests, and mood assessments, to judge rosemary oil's affects.

"Only contentedness possessed a significant relationship with 1,8-cineole levels, and interestingly to some of the cognitive performance outcomes, leading to the intriguing proposal that positive mood can improve performance whereas aroused mood cannot," said Moss.

Though rosemary has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, researchers haven’t been certain how the herb works in the body.

The new study shows terpene, the main constituent of rosemary oil can boost brain power. According to the authors rosemary boosts levels of 1,8-cineole in the bloodstream, leading to improved cognition.

Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology
“Plasma 1,8-cineole correlates with cognitive performance following exposure to rosemary essential oil aroma”
Mark Moss
February 24, 2012, doi:10.1177/2045125312436573

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